How Long Can A Person Have Diarrhea (And Why)?

Exact Answer: 1-2 days

Diarrhea is a health issue that has been observed by billions worldwide. It is estimated that every year, 2 billion people around the globe contract diarrhea. In developing nations, a lot of cases of diarrhea are seen in children under the age of 5 years. It is the second most common cause of death for this age group.

Diarrhea is manifested by loose, watery stools or abnormally frequent bowel movements. It is generally a mild health issue that lasts for just a few days. However, if a person has diarrhea for more than five days or longer, then it indicates some other, more serious underlying condition.

How Long Can A Person Have Diarrhea?

Type of diarrheaDuration
Acute diarrhea1-2 days
Chronic diarrhea4 weeks

Acute diarrhea is the milder form of the disease, and it lasts 1-2 days. It is often caused by an infection in the gastrointestinal tract. The germs that cause acute diarrhea are bacteria, viruses, and parasitic organisms. Acute diarrhea may also be caused by eating dairy (for lactose intolerant people), consuming artificial sweeteners, or sometimes as a side effect of abdominal surgery.

Chronic diarrhea may be caused due to various reasons. Some of them include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), microscopic colitis, malabsorptive and maldigestive diarrhea, chronic infections, drug-induced diarrhea, endocrine-related causes, cancer-related causes, etc.

While acute diarrhea is not much cause for concern, chronic diarrhea must be treated as soon as possible since it hints at another, potentially more debilitating health problem. The following symptoms are observed when a person has diarrhea –

  1. Loose, watery stools
  2. Abdominal cramps and pain
  3. Fever
  4. Blood/ mucus in the stool
  5. Bloating
  6. Nausea
  7. Frequent urges for bowel movement

In most cases, you need to just stay hydrated and wait out the duration of the disease. Diarrhea often goes away on its own without the need for medication. People may use home remedies to get better quickly. You must visit a doctor when you notice the following –

  1. Diarrhea persists for more than a few days
  2. You experience dehydration
  3. You suffer from severe pain in the abdomen or rectum
  4. You pass bloody /black stools
  5. You contract a fever of more than 102F (39 C)

Why Does A Person Have Diarrhea For That Long?

The only complication that arises with diarrhea (given that there is no other health problem or underlying cause) is dehydration. If not handled quickly, dehydration can be life-threatening, especially if the patient is a young child. The following symptoms indicate dehydration in adults –

  1. Excessive thirst
  2. Dry mouth or skin
  3. Little or no urination
  4. Weakness, dizziness, etc
  5. Dark urine
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In infants and younger children, watch out for the following symptoms –

  1. Dry mouth and tongue
  2. Fever above 102 F (39 C)
  3. Crying without tears
  4. Drowsiness

The patient must be drinking enough fluids to keep their body hydrated. Oral rehydration solution (ORS) and zinc supplements reduce the severity of diarrhea in both adults and children. You can also take over the counter antidiarrheal medications like Imodium or Pepto Bismol. Antibiotics can also treat diarrhea, but only if the cause of origin is a bacterial infection. You should consult a doctor before taking antibiotics.

The most common home remedy for treating diarrhea is simply to go on a light diet. Drink clear liquids like water, electrolyte drinks, pure fruit juice (without sugar). Eat a lot of high-potassium foods like bananas and potatoes. Eat foods like broths, soups, salted crackers that contain more amounts of sodium. Also, try to eat foods high in soluble fiber. Avoid creamy, fried, or sugary foods.

Prevention of diarrhea is as simple as drinking clean and safe water. When in doubt, boil the water before drinking it. Have good hygiene practices and make sure there are good sanitation systems in place wherever you live or visit.

Conclusion

Diarrhea is a common health issue with many different causes. It is not much cause of concern unless it is chronic, in which case a doctor must be consulted. Usually, home remedies and treatments are enough to treat diarrhea, but if you are concerned about your symptoms and condition, discuss it with your doctor.

When traveling to a place where you’re unsure of the sanitation systems, it is always a good idea to ask your doctor about any antibiotics as a precaution. Always boil your water if unsure, and practice hygiene.

References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025712505702868
  2. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMcp0904162
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